Geoarchaeology: theories and practices

Geoarchaeology: theories and practices – Developing a toolbox for geoarchaeology in archaeological field projects

27 – 29 March, VU University Amsterdam

3 days, 3 EC

Teachers: Professor Ian A. Simpson, ( and Dr. Sjoerd J. Kluiving (

Geoarchaeology as a research field continues to grow as analyses and techniques more typically used in earth and environmental sciences are shown to have used in interpreting the archaeological record (Diskin et al, 2013). Geoarchaeology is ‘the science that studies geo-bio-archives in an archaeological context by also considering historical and archaeological data sources in its syntheses’; it emphasizes a multidisciplinary role, as a sub-discipline of geomorphology, between the geosciences and cultural sciences (Engel & Brückner, 2014). Geoarchaeology provides insights into landscape reconstructions, human behaviors, and cultural processes that are a backdrop to landscape change (Kluiving et al, 2015). In this course a toolbox is presented to study geoarchaeological research problems and which methods are used from Northwest European and North Atlantic case study areas.


This course gives theoretical and practical frameworks for interpreting soils, sediments and landscapes as records of the past and provides theoretical training in field and laboratory methods that identify, quantify and evaluate early human activities and environmental imprints. These understandings and skills contribute new landscape histories for Northwest European and North Atlantic regions, while these techniques can also be applied elsewhere. This work offers important and challenging perspectives on how interpretations of soils and sediments contribute to how people lived with and adapted to environmental change and has resonance with contemporary debates on sustainability, resilience and heritage management.   

Learning outcomes:

• Understanding the principles of interpreting landscapes and sediment stratigraphies as records of the past.

• Understanding the contributions of landscape studies and sediment analyses in the interpretation of key aspects of landscape history including multi-scale and multi-topical cartographic analysis, sediment description (from outcrop, core and lacquer peel), coring practice, as well as micro-morphological observations.

• Ability to integrate landscape histories and sedimentary evidence with inter-disciplinary sources, including documentary, archaeological and environmental information, to address broader issues of society – environment change interactions. 

• The module provides a foundation for research-based field and laboratory Dissertation topics in Geoarchaeology and landscape history.

Acquired skills:

• Competence in the application of science based methods to answer archaeological research questions.

• Competence in the description, analyses and interpretation of soils and sediments from archaeological landscape contexts.

• Competence in cross-disciplinary approaches applied to questions of society-environment interactions.


Day 1: Research problems, maps, stratigraphies and lacquer peels NW European and North Atlantic areas

Day 2: Fieldwork in NW European area: Wekeromse Zand (Pleistocene) and Amstelveen (Holocene)

Day 3: Micromorphology North-Atlantic, student presentations, and synthesis

The final seminar program will be published shortly


Presentation: oral (20%), blogpost (20%),  Research report (3000 words, excl. figures, images, photos and references) (60%). The research report is due Friday 11 March 2016. The minimum grade to obtain a pass for a module is a 60% score.

Admission, logistics

Students can administer for this course by contacting the ARCHON office at

Any questions relating to the content of the course can be sent to Sjoerd Kluiving,